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Three Women in Beirut…

Three Women in Beirut…

Wednesday, 24 February, 2021 - 11:00

Lebanese women did not have the chance to build an image of themselves that corresponds to their weight and influence or describes their struggle to obtain their weight and influence.

It is true that Lebanon has known many prominent women intellectuals, writers, artists, and academics, and many businesswomen, women professionals, journalists, militants, and activists who fought to the end for what they believe in.

The colored revolution of 2019- 2020 was also a brilliant site for exposing women’s shining and active presence.

These developments flew in the face of the deeply entrenched traditional image of the women- the mother and the woman- the wife and woman- the daughter or sister, not to mention “the fairer sex” and “the salon ladies” who embrace folkloric activities, touristic festivals or institutions described as philanthropic.

Three weeks ago, Lebanese women’s image gained an extremely bright and substantial addition. The sad occasion of executing Lokman Slim pointed us in the direction of the three women of the same household grieving the same great murdered man.

Those three women who were put in the media’s spotlight by the crime manifest a different Lebanon, pluralistic and colorful, one of renaissance and enlightenment that cuts across identities and sects, and defends the victim and the weak.

The mother, Salma Mershaq Slim, is Syrian-Lebanese-Egyptian; the wife, Monika Borgman, is German-Lebanese, and between them is the sister, Rasha al-Ameer. Rasha, who lived in France before Lebanon, acquires her many identities not from nationalities but from her ideas, languages, and places. She worked as a journalist while living in Paris; then, she published the novel “Yum al-Din” (Judgement Day) and a language education book called “Kitab al-Hamza.” In the meantime, Rasha worked with her brother Lokman to co-found the “Dar al-Jadeed” publishing house. Abdullah Al-Alayli and Muhammad Khatami’s works were among those they sought to publish.

Writing and the issues relevant to it, especially the Renaissance and religious reform, found an early advocate in the mother, Salma, who lived in Egypt before moving to Lebanon. In two books, Salma introduced Nicolas Haddad, whom she called “the erudite literati,” and Ibrahim al-Masri, whom she described as a “pioneer of the psychological novel.” As for her interest in the “Shawam”- that is, the Syrians and Lebanese who immigrated early on to Egypt (Slama is herself among their descendants)- it emerged from the modern and liberating values that these “Shawam” held and were nurtured by the illuminating British presence at the time.

This transnational awareness was complemented by her husband’s understanding of politics. Before sectarian identities exploded in the manner we know today, the lawyer Mohsen Slim was close to the National Bloc Party that linked Mount Lebanon with the southern suburbs of Beirut, that is, Christians with Shiites. At the time, this suburb still identified with Lebanon, and its ties to Beirut were much stronger than those with Tehran. In line with his reformist attitude toward religion, Slim defended the prominent intellectual Sadiq Jalal al-Azm and the novelist Laila al-Baalbaki when they came under the fire of religious fanatics. Before that, he took on the case of the journalist Kamel Mroue, the founder of “Al-Hayat” newspaper, who had been assassinated by Nasser’s intelligence services and its subordinates in Beirut.

All of these proclivities and attitudes come together in Monika Borgman. She wrote a book in French about the Algerian journalist Saeed Moqbil, who founded, in his country, the ‘‘Le Matin” newspaper before being assassinated by fanatics, either loyal to the Islamists or the military. Monika is also an internationalist: she became very Lebanese while also remaining very German, and she did not see how the former could contradict the latter. She worked for the German press and studied Arabic in Bonn before continuing her studies in Damascus. After marrying Lokman, they founded “UMAM Research and Documentation” together, and they directed the two films, “My Murderer,” about the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, and “Palmyra”, on the Lebanese prisoners’ suffering in this jail in Syria.

The three women’s determination to search for the truth, defend the victims, and seek a more just and dignified world persists, to live in the depths of languages and on their borders, in countries and on their margins... They have been cutting across identities amid the accelerating general plunge into sub-identities and fanatical murders like that which ended Lokman’s life, those that came before and ended the lives of Kamel Mroue and Saeed Moqbil, who joined this family of great sorrows.

These women are the most refined linkages between one part of Lebanon and another, women who pull Lebanon to the world and draw the world to Lebanon. They could have formed a bridge between the most splendid aspects of this country’s past and a tomorrow that was not fated to be.

Salma, Monika, and Rasha did not only lose their beloved. They live by an avenue named “Khomeini Avenue,” close to a mural of Qassem Soleimani that dominates the public space today. This is an assault, a blatant, constant, and continuous assault on our three ladies.

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